How to get beyond the parked bus (and offside trap)

This morning saw a very disciplined Swiss back four hold a high line very effectively and step as a unit to catch Chile offside several times. It’s a risky venture though and they eventually got burned on a 50-50 call. If that hadn’t gone Chile’s way then they may still be scratching their heads on how to permeate the Swiss defense.

Portugal, on the other hand, very surely knew that North Korea would have a heavily fortified border (sorry) and would park the bus at the top of the box (one of their defenders may actually be named Park Yur Bus) a la Inter v Barcelona in the Champions League semi final.

There’s really only three solutions to breaching such tactics. The first is to rely on long range shots. Not a terrible option if you have people capable taking such shots and if you have the sort of rain that Portugal and North Korea faced today, it’s a even better idea. Plus all those bodies in the way make it difficult for keepers to see shots and increase the chances of fortuitous deflections.

The second way to beat the packed line of defenders along the 18 yard box is through quick ball movement to create a 1v1. If your attacker can beat the defender 1v1, it unbalances the defenders and forces a quick readjustment (read: a scramble). This penetration behind a defender opens up opportunities as teammates can now run past markers at the top of the box and look for slotted crosses from the teammate who has beaten their opponent.

The last way to get beyond these tactics was perfectly exemplified by Portugal on their opening goal against North Korea today. A timed run from midfield with a perfectly weighted pass into their path.

Here’s how it’s done (starts about 18 seconds in):

Parking the bus is a justifiable tactic if you’re down a man and facing a very strong team. Mourinho’s extreme example of it in the second leg against Barcelona when they went down to ten men at the Camp Nou in May, allowed Barcelona an unheard of 80% of the possession but their wall held and Barca’s insistence on sticking to their passing game fell flat because they couldn’t coax Inter out to give them a bit of room to play through.

It’s really no different trying to beat the offside trap: attack defenders 1v1 to take advantage of defenders that want to play with limited depth to catch opponents offside. Deep runs from midfield have also long been a mainstay of broaching this tactic.

With some luck other teams will demonstrate that you can beat the parked bus and offside trap with some individual skill and crafted passes as Portugal showed today and teams will rely less on a tactic that looks more like the New York Giants offensive line that something we like to see on a soccer field.

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2 Responses to How to get beyond the parked bus (and offside trap)

  1. Mike says:

    Gregor, I don’t mean to get you off the track of this illuminating analysis, but perhaps you might offer a comment or two on the referees. Have they always been petty fascist dictators? Stopping the ball with your face: yellow card! Handling it twice in the box (but it’s ok: you’re Brazil!): no call!. Scoring the third goal after being down two-nil: not allowed! I realize it’s a hard game to ref, and the super slo mo is especially lethal to the referees, but can the beautiful game really remain beautiful if this kind of tyranny is allowed to persist? Video replay rule? (help)

  2. Gregor says:

    Hi Mike,

    That’s a chicken or the egg type question…Does the power go to their heads and make them not-so-benevolent dictators or is it that people with dictatorial streaks are drawn to be refs!

    Part of the problem is FIFA’s need/desire to be inclusive when the create the pool of officials for World Cups. Rather than just select the best refs regardless of where they’re from, they make sure that all regions are represented. So, especially in the round robin games, you get some refs that are not used to doing games at this level and are either clearly overwhelmed by the occasion or were just lacking in knowledge all along.

    For example the Saudi ref in today’s Chile v Switzerland game made a mess of things right off the bat and created an environment were players were trying to induce yellow cards and fouls for their opponents. By giving a yellow in the first minute plus three more and a red by half time, he’d shown he was trigger happy and both teams played to that and kept trying to get opponents in trouble. The risk/reward ratio was too tempting. In the end, a relatively mild game ended up with nine yellow cards and one expulsion. 45 fouls were called.

    Clearly the ref was out of his element. As was the Malian ref for the USA v Slovenia game who messed up his first call of the game when Dempsey elbowed a Slovenian. It took him 30 seconds to reverse his call and give the free kick to Slovenia and it seemed to rattle him the rest of the game. His body language suggested a nervous, unsure disposition and it all came out in the end when he called back a perfectly good American goal that would have certainly given the States the three points.

    So for me, some are partial to despotism but many others are just the result of FIFA’s opting for bringing refs in from all over the world and some of those refs just simply not being up to it and disguising it with overzealous yellows and reds as well as make up calls for prior errors.

    As much as I’m a traditionalist in general when it comes to the game, I do think with the speed of the game and the increasing penchant for deception and embellishment, it’s time to start using video replay. Too much is at stake to expect even the best refs to get all the calls right on such a large surface when the incidents often come unexpectedly.

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